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Long-time CPA lobbyist moves on

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In preparation for the 1998 legislative session, the Colorado Press Association decided to retain contract lobbyists for the first time.

Joanie Ringel and I interviewed with CPA Executive Director Ed Otte and a committee of Bob Cox, Lauren Lehman and Bob Sweeney. We told them with Master of Public Administration degrees and careers primarily in government service, it would be consistent with our values and a great honor to work with Colorado’s newspapers on behalf of the First Amendment.

After winning the contract, our first issue was a bill introduced at the request of the Jefferson County Commissioners to remove the requirement that counties provide financial information to the public through legal notices. After the bill lost, the commissioners removed the notices from Cox’s Golden Transcript and published them in the County’s lowest circulation paper.

Romberg hired

During the next 20 years, we successfully fought the same bill every year or two. In 2018, at the request of the Jefferson County Commissioners, it was introduced again. Despite our best efforts, in my 21st year with CPA, it passed. Thankfully, Gov. John Hickenlooper vetoed it.

As my representation of CPA comes to an end, it’s appropriate that my efforts for CPA begin and end with the death of a bill to restrict public access to county financial information.

During these 21 years (the first few with Joanie and the rest on my own), we have worked together on many important issues for newspapers and Coloradans.

It’s usually a lonely battle as everyone says they believe in transparency and access to government information, but media organizations are usually left to fight alone when government entities or private organizations subject to government oversight find public knowledge of their activities to be inconvenient or embarrassing and ask the legislature to hide information from public view.

In all of our 21 years together we needed to fight, usually with great success, efforts to hide government records or to allow governmental entities to operate outside of public view.

We’ve also been proactive when newspapers found problems with open meeting or records laws and when courts made rulings that restricted public access. Among our most successful legislative initiatives include:

• Requiring executive sessions to be recorded to make sure only things allowed to be discussed in private were,

• Stopping abuse of deliberative process claims,

• Limiting what governments charge to copy or research records,

• Stopping governments from prohibiting people to request records from remote locations,

• Clarifying that private votes cannot be taken during public meetings,

• And passing legislation that records must be provided in digital formats that allow them to be analyzed.

We very rarely lost legislative battles and asked governors to veto bills the legislature passed. In addition to the county financial bill, Hickenlooper vetoed SB 223 this year. It would have hidden minors’ autopsy reports. Those were our first veto requests since 2002 when Gov. Bill Owens vetoed SB 49, which denied access to divorce records. Owens also vetoed 2000’s HB 1114 that would have hidden concealed weapon permits.

Through this journey, I’ve been privileged to work with three outstanding CPA chief executives: Ed Otte, Samantha Johnston and Jerry Raehal and more wonderful CPA board members and newspaper professionals than can be listed here.

I’m lucky to have partnered with CPA’s outstanding attorneys, Tom Kelley and Steve Zansberg, as well as members of their firms. While I’ve had the privilege to collaborate with many governmental officials, I’d be remiss not to mention Geoff Wilson, the Colorado Municipal League’s longtime General Counsel who recently won the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition’s Sue O’Brien award, who was both a respected adversary and valued colleague as we worked to make sure Colorado’s open meeting and records laws work.

It goes without saying that none of our accomplishments could have happened without dedicated legislators and statewide elected officials who worked to make Colorado’s records and meetings open and available to the people of Colorado.

It has been one of the great honors and pleasures of my professional life to work with and for Colorado’s newspapers the last 21 years. Thank you for the opportunity to advocate the very important things you do.